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Variety is the spice of life

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3

To Cal the day was endless. He wanted to leave the house and couldn’t. At eleven o’clock Adam went to the closed draft-board office to brood over the records of a new batch of boys coming up.
Aron seemed perfectly calm. He sat in the living room, looking at cartoons in old numbers of the Review of Reviews. From the kitchen the odor of the bursting juices of roasting turkey began to fill the house.
Cal went into his room and took out his present and laid it on his desk. He tried to write a card to put on it. “To my father from Caleb”--“To Adam Trask from Caleb Trask.” He tore the cards in tiny pieces and flushed them down the toilet.
He thought, Why give it to him today? Maybe tomorrow I could go to him quietly and say, This is for you, and then walk away. That would be easier. “No,” he said aloud. “I want the others to see.” It had to be that way. But his lungs were compressed and the palms of his hands were wet with stage fright. And then he thought of the morning when his father got him out of jail. The warmth and closeness--they were the things to remember--and his father’s trust. Why, he had even said it. “I trust you.” He felt much better then.
At about three o’clock he heard Adam come in and there was the low sound of voices conversing in the living room. Cal joined his father and Aron.
Adam was saying, “The times are changed. A boy must be a specialist or he will get nowhere. I guess that’s why I’m so glad you’re going to college.”
Aron said, “I’ve been thinking about that, and I wonder.”
“Well, don’t think any more. Your first choice is right. Look at me. I know a little bit about a great many things and not enough about any one of them to make a living in these times.”
Cal sat down quietly. Adam did not notice him. His face was concentrated on his thought.
“It’s natural for a man to want his son to succeed,” Adam went on. “And maybe I can see better than you can.”
Lee looked in. “The kitchen scales must be way off,” he said. “The turkey’s going to be done earlier than the chart says. I’ll bet that bird doesn’t weigh eighteen pounds.”
Adam said, “Well, you can keep it warm,” and he continued, “Old Sam Hamilton saw this coming. He said there couldn’t be any more universal philosophers. The weight of knowledge is too great for one mind to absorb. He saw a time when one man would know only one little fragment, but he would know it well.”
“Yes,” Lee said from the doorway, “and he deplored it. He hated it.”
“Did he now?” Adam asked.
Lee came into the room. He held his big basting spoon in his right hand, and he cupped his left under the bowl for fear it would drip on the carpet. He came into the room and forgot and waved his spoon and drops of turkey fat fell to the floor. “Now you question it, I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know whether he hated it or I hate it for him.”
“Don’t get so excited,” said Adam. “Seems to me we can’t discuss anything any more but you take it as a personal insult.”
“Maybe the knowledge is too great and maybe men are growing too small,” said Lee. “Maybe, kneeling down to atoms, they’re becoming atom-sized in their souls. Maybe a specialist is only a coward, afraid to look out of his little cage. And think what any specialist misses--the whole world over his fence.”
“We’re only talking about making a living.”
“A living--or money,” Lee said excitedly. “Money’s easy to make if it’s money you want. But with a few exceptions people don’t want money. They want luxury and they want love and they want admiration.”
“All right. But do you have any objection to college? That’s what we’re talking about.”
“I’m sorry,” said Lee. “You’re right, I do seem to get too excited. No, if college is where a man can go to find his relation to his whole world, I don’t object. Is it that? Is it that, Aron?”
“I don’t know,” said Aron.
A hissing sound came from the kitchen. Lee said, “The goddam giblets are boiling over,” and he bolted through the door.
Adam gazed after him affectionately. “What a good man! What a good friend!”
Aron said, “I hope he lives to be a hundred.”
His father chuckled. “How do you know he’s not a hundred now?”
Cal asked, “How is the ice plant doing, Father?”
“Why, all right. Pays for itself and makes a little profit. Why?”
“I thought of a couple of things to make it really pay.”
“Not today,” said Adam quickly. “Monday, if you remember, but not today. You know,” Adam said, “I don’t remember when I’ve felt so good. I feel--well, you might call it fulfilled. Maybe it’s only a good night’s sleep and a good trip to the bathroom. And maybe it’s because we’re all together and at peace.” He smiled at Aron. “We didn’t know what we felt about you until you went away.”
“I was homesick,” Aron confessed. “The first few days I thought I’d die of it.”
Abra came in with a little rush. Her cheeks were pink and she was happy. “Did you notice there’s snow on Mount Toro?” she asked.
“Yes, I saw it,” Adam said. “They say that means a good year to come. And we could use it.”
“I just nibbled,” said Abra. “I wanted to be hungry for here.”
Lee apologized for the dinner like an old fool. He blamed the gas oven which didn’t heat like a good wood stove. He blamed the new breed of turkeys which lacked a something turkeys used to have. But he laughed with them when they told him he was acting like an old woman fishing for compliments.
With the plum pudding Adam opened the champagne, and they treated it with ceremony. A courtliness settled over the table. They proposed toasts. Each one had his health drunk, and Adam made a little speech to Abra when he drank her health.
Her eyes were shining and under the table Aron held her hand. The wine dulled Cal’s nervousness and he was not afraid about his present.
When Adam had finished his plum pudding he said, “I guess we never have had such a good Thanksgiving.”
Cal reached in his jacket pocket, took out the red-ribboned package, and pushed it over in front of his father.
“What’s this?” Adam asked.
“It’s a present.”
Adam was pleased. “Not even Christmas and we have presents. I wonder what it can be!”
“A handkerchief,” said Abra.
Adam slipped off the grubby bow and unfolded the tissue paper. He stared down at the money.
Abra said, “What is it?” and stood up to look. Aron leaned forward. Lee, in the doorway, tried to keep the look of worry from his face. He darted a glance at Cal and saw the light of joy and triumph in his eyes.
Very slowly Adam moved his fingers and fanned the gold certificates. His voice seemed to come from far away. “What is it? What--” He stopped.
Cal swallowed. “It’s--I made it--to give to you--to make up for losing the lettuce.”
Adam raised his head slowly. “You made it? How?”
“Mr. Hamilton--we made it--on beans.” He hurried on, “We bought futures at five cents and when the price jumped--It’s for you, fifteen thousand dollars. It’s for you.”
Adam touched the new bills so that their edges came together, folded the tissue over them and turned the ends up. He looked helplessly at Lee. Cal caught a feeling--a feeling of calamity, of destruction in the air, and a weight of sickness overwhelmed him. He heard his father say, “You’ll have to give it back.”
Almost as remotely his own voice said, “Give it back? Give it back to who?”
“To the people you got it from.”
“The British Purchasing Agency? They can’t take it back. They’re paying twelve and a half cents for beans all over the country.”
“Then give it to the farmers you robbed.”
“Robbed?” Cal cried. “Why, we paid them two cents a pound over the market. We didn’t rob them.” Cal felt suspended in space, and time seemed very slow.
His father took a long time to answer. There seemed to be long spaces between his words. “I send boys out,” he said. “I sign my name and they go out. And some will die and some will lie helpless without arms and legs. Not one will come back untorn. Son, do you think I could take a profit on that?”
“I did it for you,”. Cal said. “I wanted you to have the money to make up your loss.”
“I don’t want the money, Cal. And the lettuce--I don’t think I did that for a profit. It was a kind of game to see if I could get the lettuce there, and I lost. I don’t want the money.”
Cal looked straight ahead. He could feel the eyes of Lee and Aron and Abra crawling on his cheeks. He kept his eyes on his father’s lips.
“I like the idea of a present,” Adam went on. “I thank you for the thought--”
“I’ll put it away. I’ll keep it for you,” Cal broke in.
“No. I won’t want it ever. I would have been so happy if you could have given me--well, what your brother has--pride in the thing he’s doing, gladness in his progress. Money, even clean money, doesn’t stack up with that.” His eyes widened a little and he said, “Have I made you angry, son? Don’t be angry. If you want to give me a present--give me a good life. That would be something I could value.”
Cal felt that he was choking. His forehead streamed with perspiration and he tasted salt on his tongue. He stood up suddenly and his chair fell over. He ran from the room, holding his breath.
Adam called after him, “Don’t be angry, son.”
They let him alone. He sat in his room, his elbows on his desk. He thought he would cry but he did not. He tried to let weeping start but tears could not pass the hot iron in his head.
After a time his breathing steadied and he watched his brain go to work slyly, quietly. He fought the quiet hateful brain down and it slipped aside and went about its work. He fought it more weakly, for hate was seeping all through his body, poisoning every nerve. He could feel himself losing control.
Then there came a point where the control and the fear were gone and his brain cried out in an aching triumph. His hand went to a pencil and he drew tight little spirals one after another on his blotting pad. When Lee came in an hour later there were hundreds of spirals, and they had become smaller and smaller. He did not look up.
Lee closed the door gently. “I brought you some coffee,” he said.
“I don’t want it--yes, I do. Why, thank you, Lee. It’s kind of you to think of it.”
Lee said, “Stop it! Stop it, I tell you!”
“Stop what? What do you want me to stop?”
Lee said uneasily, “I told you once when you asked me that it was all in yourself. I told you you could control it--if you wanted.”
“Control what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Lee said, “Can’t you hear me? Can’t I get through to you? Cal, don’t you know what I’m saying?”
“I hear you, Lee. What are you saying?”
“He couldn’t help it, Cal. That’s his nature. It was the only way he knew. He didn’t have any choice. But you have. Don’t you hear me? You have a choice.”
The spirals had become so small that the pencil lines ran together and the result was a shiny black dot.
Cal said quietly, “Aren’t you making a fuss about nothing? You must be slipping. You’d think from your tone that I’d killed somebody. Come off it, Lee. Come off it.”
It was silent in the room. After a moment Cal turned from his desk and the room was empty. A cup of coffee on the bureau top sent up a plume of vapor. Cal drank the coffee scalding as it was and went into the living room.
His father looked up apologetically at him.
Cal said, “I’m sorry, Father. I didn’t know how you felt about it.” He took the package of money from where it lay on the mantel and put it in the inside pocket of his coat where it had been before. “I’ll see what I can do about this.” He said casually, “Where are the others?”
“Oh, Abra had to go. Aron walked with her. Lee went out.”
“I guess I’ll go for a walk,” said Cal.
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Variety is the spice of life

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4

The November night was well fallen. Cal opened the front door a crack and saw Lee’s shoulders and head outlined against the white wall of the French Laundry across the street. Lee was sitting on the steps, and he looked lumpy in his heavy coat.
Cal closed the door quietly and went back through the living room. “Champagne makes you thirsty,” he said. His father didn’t look up.
Cal slipped out the kitchen door and moved through Lee’s waning kitchen garden. He climbed the high fence, found the two-by-twelve plank that served as a bridge across the slough of dark water, and came out between Lang’s Bakery and the tinsmith’s shop on Castroville Street.
He walked to Stone Street where the Catholic church is and turned left, went past the Carriaga house, the Wilson house, the Zabala house, and turned left on Central Avenue at the Steinbeck house. Two blocks out Central he turned left past the West End School.
The poplar trees in front of the schoolyard were nearly bare, but in the evening wind a few yellowed leaves still twisted down.
Cal’s mind was numb. He did not even know that the air was cold with frost slipping down from the mountains. Three blocks ahead he saw his brother cross under a streetlight, coming toward him. He knew it was his brother by stride and posture and because he knew it.
Cal slowed his steps, and when Aron was close he said, “Hi. I came looking for you.”
Aron said, “I’m sorry about this afternoon.”
“You couldn’t help it--forget it.” He turned and the two walked side by side. “I want you to come with me,” Cal said. “I want to show you something.”
“What is it?”
“Oh, it’s a surprise. But it’s very interesting. You’ll be interested.”
“Well, will it take long?”
“No, not very long. Not very long at all.”
They walked past Central Avenue toward Castroville Street.
5
Sergeant Axel Dane ordinarily opened the San Jose recruiting office at eight o’clock, but if he was a little late Corporal Kemp opened it, and Kemp was not likely to complain. Axel was not an unusual case. A hitch in the U.S. Army in the time of peace between the Spanish war and the German war had unfitted him for the cold, unordered life of a civilian. One month between hitches convinced him of that. Two hitches in the peacetime army completely unfitted him for war, and he had learned enough method to get out of it. The San Jose recruiting station proved he knew his way about. He was dallying with the youngest Ricci girl and she lived in San Jose.
Kemp hadn’t the time in, but he was learning the basic rule. Get along with the topkick and avoid all officers when possible. He didn’t mind the gentle riding Sergent Dane handed out.
At eight-thirty Dane entered the office to find Corporal Kemp asleep at his desk and a tired-looking kid sat waiting. Dane glanced at the boy and then went in back of the rail and put his hand on Kemp’s shoulder.
“Darling,” he said, “the skylarks are singing and a new dawn is here.”
Kemp raised his head from his arms, wiped his nose on the back of his hand, and sneezed. “That’s my sweet,” the sergeant said. “Arise, we have a customer.”
Kemp squinted his crusted eyes. “The war will wait,” he said.
Dane looked more closely at the boy. “God! he’s beautiful. I hope they take good care of him. Corporal, you may think that he wants to bear arms against the foe, but I think he’s running away from love.”
Kemp was relieved that the sergeant wasn’t quite sober. “You think some dame hurt him?” He played any game his sergeant wished. “You think it’s the Foreign Legion?”
“Maybe he’s running away from himself.”
Kemp said, “I saw that picture. There’s one mean son of a bitch of a sergeant in it.”
“I don’t believe it,” said Dane. “Step up, young man. Eighteen, aren’t you?”
“Yes, sir.”
Dane turned to his man. “What do you think?”
“Hell!” said Kemp. “I say if they’re big enough, they’re old enough.”
The sergeant said, “Let’s say you’re eighteen. And we’ll stick to it, shall we?”
“Yes, sir.”
“You just take this form and fill it out. Now you figure out what year you were born, and you put it down right here, and you remember it.”
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Variety is the spice of life

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Chapter 50


1
Joe didn’t like for Kate to sit still and stare straight ahead--hour after hour. That meant she was thinking, and since her face had no expression Joe had no access to her thoughts. It made him uneasy. He didn’t want his first real good break to get away from him.
He had only one plan himself--and that was to keep her stirred up until she gave herself away. Then he could jump in any direction. But how about it if she sat looking at the wall? Was she stirred up or wasn’t she?
Joe knew she hadn’t been to bed, and when he asked whether or not she wanted breakfast she shook her head so slowly that it was hard to know whether she had heard him or not.
He advised, himself cautiously, “Don’t do nothing! Just stick around and keep your eyes and ears open.” The girls in the house knew something had happened but no two of them had the same story, the goddam chickenheads.
Kate was not thinking. Her mind drifted among impressions the way a bat drifts and swoops in the evening. She saw the face of the blond and beautiful boy, his eyes mad with shock. She heard his ugly words aimed not so much at her as at himself. And she saw his dark brother leaning against the door and laughing.
Kate had laughed too--the quickest and best self-protection. What would her son do? What had he done after he went quietly away?
She thought of Cal’s eyes with their look of sluggish and fulfilled cruelty, peering at her as he slowly closed the door.
Why had he brought his brother? What did he want? What was he after? If she knew she could take care of herself. But she didn’t know.
The pain was creeping in her hands again and there was a new place. Her right hip ached angrily when she moved. She thought, So the pain will move in toward the center, and sooner or later all the pains will meet in the center and join like rats in a clot.
In spite of his advice to himself, Joe couldn’t let it alone. He carried a pot of tea to her door, knocked softly, opened the door, and went in. As far as he could see she hadn’t moved.
He said, “I brought you some tea, ma’am.”
“Put it on the table,” she said, and then as a second thought, “Thank you, Joe.”
“You don’t feel good, ma’am?”
“The pain’s back. The medicine fooled me.”
“Anything I can do?”
She raised her hands. “Cut these off--at the wrists.” She grimaced with the extra pain lifting her hands had caused. “Makes you feel hopeless,” she said plaintively.
Joe had never heard a tone of weakness in her before and his instinct told him it was time to move in. He said, “Maybe you don’t want me to bother you but I got some word about that other.” He knew by the little interval before she answered that she had tensed.
“What other?” she asked softly.
“That dame, ma’am.”
“Oh! You mean Ethel!”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“I’m getting tired of Ethel. What is it now?”
“Well, I’ll tell you like it happened. I can’t make nothing out of it. I’m in Kellogg’s cigar store and a fella come up to me. ‘You’re Joe?’ he says, an’ I tell him, ‘Who says?’ ‘You was lookin’ for somebody,’ he says. ‘Tell me about it,’ I says. Never seen the guy before. So he says, ‘That party toi’ me she wants to talk to you.’ An’ I told him, ‘Well, why don’t she?’ He gives me the long look an’ he says, ‘Maybe you forgot what the judge said.’ I guess he means about her coming back.” He looked at Kate’s face, still and pale, the eyes looking straight ahead.
Kate said, “And then he asked you for some money?”
“No, ma’am. He didn’t. He says something don’t make no sense. He says, ‘Does Faye mean anything to you?’ ‘Not a thing,’ I tol’ him. He says, ‘Maybe you better talk to her.’ ‘Maybe,’ I says, an’ I come away. Don’t make no sense to me. I figured I’d ask you.”
Kate asked, “Does the name Faye mean anything to you?”
“Not a thing.”
Her voice became very soft. “You mean you never heard that Faye used to own this house?”
Joe felt a sickening jolt in the pit of his stomach. What a goddam fool! Couldn’t keep his mouth shut. His mind floundered. “Why--why come to think of it, I believe I did hear that--seemed like the name was like Faith.”
The sudden alarm was good for Kate. It took the blond head and the pain from her. It gave her something to do. She responded to the challenge with something like pleasure.
She laughed softly. “Faith,” she said under her breath. “Pour me some tea, Joe.”
She did not appear to notice that his hand shook and that the teapot spout rattled against the cup. She did not look at him even when he set the cup before her and then stepped back out of range of her eyes. Joe was quaking with apprehension.
Kate said in a pleading voice, “Joe, do you think you could help me? If I gave you ten thousand dollars, do you think you could fix everything up?” She waited just a second, then swung around and looked full in his face.
His eyes were moist. She caught him licking his lips. And at her sudden move he stepped back as though she had struck at him. Her eyes would not let him go.
“Did I catch you out, Joe?”
“I don’t know what you’re getting at, ma’am.”
“You go and figure it out--and then you come and tell me. You’re good at figuring things out. And send Therese in, will you?”
He wanted to get out of this room where he was outpointed and outfought. He’d made a mess of things. He wondered if he’d bollixed up the breaks. And then the bitch had the nerve to say, “Thank you for bringing tea. You’re a nice boy.”
He wanted to slam the door, but he didn’t dare.
Kate got up stiffly, trying to avoid the pain of moving her hip. She went to her desk and slipped out a sheet of paper. Holding the pen was difficult.
She wrote, moving her whole arm. “Dear Ralph: Tell the sheriff it wouldn’t do any harm to check on Joe Valery’s fingerprints. You remember Joe. He works for me. Mrs. Kate.” She was folding the paper when Therese came in, looking frightened.
“You want me? Did I do something? I tried my best. Ma’am, I ain’t been well.”
“Come here,” Kate said, and while the girl waited beside the desk Kate slowly addressed the envelope and stamped it. “I want you to run a little errand for me,” she said. “Go to Bell’s candy store and get a five-pound box of mixed chocolates and a one-pound box. The big one is for you girls. Stop at Krough’s drugstore and get me two medium toothbrushes and a can of tooth powder--you know, that can with a spout?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Therese was greatly relieved.
“You’re a good girl,” Kate went on. “I’ve had my eye on you. I’m not well, Therese. If I see that you do this well, I’ll seriously consider putting you in charge when I go the hospital.”
“You will--are--are you going to the hospital?”
“I don’t know yet, dear. But I’ll need your help. Now here’s some money for the candy. Medium toothbrushes--remember.”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you. Shall I go now?”
“Yes, and kind of creep out, will you? Don’t let the other girls know what I told you.”
“I’ll go out the back way.” She hurried toward the door.
Kate said, “I nearly forgot. Will you drop this in a mailbox?”
“Sure I will, ma’am. Sure I will. Anything else?”
“That’s all, dear.”
When the girl was gone Kate rested her arms and hands on the desk so that each crooked finger was supported. Here it was. Maybe she had always known. She must have--but there was no need to think of that now. She would come back to that. They would put Joe away, but there’d be someone else, and there was always Ethel. Sooner or later, sooner or later--but no need to think about that now. She tiptoed her mind around the whole subject and back to an elusive thing that peeped out and then withdrew. It was when she had been thinking of her yellow-haired son that the fragment had first come to her mind. His face--hurt, bewildered, despairing--had brought it. Then she remembered.
She was a very small girl with a face as lovely and fresh as her son’s face--a very small girl. Most of the time she knew she was smarter and prettier than anyone else. But now and then a lonely fear would fall upon her so that she seemed surrounded by a tree-tall forest of enemies. Then every thought and word and look was aimed to hurt her, and she had no place to run and no place to hide. And she would cry in panic because there was no escape and no sanctuary. Then one day she was reading a book. She could read when she was five years old. She remembered the book--brown, with a silver title, and the cloth was broken and the boards thick. It was Alice in Wonderland.
Kate moved her hands slowly and lifted her weight a little from her arms. And she could see the drawings--Alice with long straight hair. But it was the bottle which said, “Drink me” that had changed her life. Alice had taught her that.
When the forest of her enemies surrounded her she was prepared. In her pocket she had a bottle of sugar water and on its red-framed label she had written, “Drink me.” She would take a sip from the bottle and she would grow smaller and smaller. Let her enemies look for her then! Cathy would be under a leaf or looking out of an anthole, laughing. They couldn’t find her then. No door could close her out and no door could close her in. She could walk upright under a door.
And always there was Alice to play with, Alice to love her and trust her. Alice was her friend, always waiting to welcome her to tinyness.
All this so good--so good that it was almost worth while to be miserable. But good as it was, there was one more thing always held in reserve. It was her threat and her safety. She had only to drink the whole bottle and she would dwindle and disappear and cease to exist. And better than all, when she stopped being, she never would have been. This was her darling safety. Sometimes in her bed she would drink enough of “Drink me” so that she was a dot as small as the littlest gnat. But she had never gone clear out--never had to. That was her reserve--guarded from everyone.
Kate shook her head sadly, remembering the cut-off little girl. She wondered why she had forgotten that wonderful trick. It had saved her from so many disasters. The light filtering down at one through a clover-leaf was glorious. Cathy and Alice walked among towering grass, arms around each other--best friends. And Cathy never had to drink all of “Drink me” because she had Alice.
Kate put her head down on the blotter between her crooked hands. She was cold and desolate, alone and desolate. Whatever she had done, she had been driven to do. She was different--she had something more than other people. She raised her head and made no move to wipe her streaming eyes. That was true. She was smarter and stronger than other people. She had something they lacked.
And right in the middle of her thought, Cal’s dark face hung in the air in front of her and his lips were smiling with cruelty. The weight pressed down on her, forcing her breath out.
They had something she lacked, and she didn’t know what it was. Once she knew this, she was ready; and once ready, she knew she had been ready for a long time--perhaps all of her life. Her mind functioned like a wooden mind, her body moved crookedly like a badly operated marionette, but she went steadily about her business.
It was noon--she knew from the chatter of the girls in the dining room. The slugs had only just got up.
Kate had trouble with the doorknob and turned it finally by rolling it between her palms.
The girls choked in the middle of laughter and looked up at her. The cook came in from the kitchen.
Kate was a sick ghost, crooked and in some way horrible. She leaned against the dining-room wall and smiled at her girls, and her smile frightened them even more, for it was like the frame for a scream.
“Where’s Joe?” Kate asked.
“He went out, ma’am.”
“Listen,” she said. “I’ve had no sleep for a long time. I’m going to take some medicine and sleep. I don’t want to be disturbed, I don’t want any supper. I’ll sleep the clock around. Tell Joe I don’t want anybody to come near me for anything until tomorrow morning. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” they said.
“Good night, then. It’s afternoon but I mean good night.”
“Good night, ma’am,” they chorused obediently.
Kate turned and walked crabwise back to her room.
She closed her door and stood looking around, trying to form her simple procedure. She went back to her desk. This time she forced her hand, in spite of the pain, to write plainly. “I leave everything I have to my son Aron Trask.” She dated the sheet and signed it “Catherine Trask.” Her fingers dwelt on the page, and then she got up and left her will face upward on the desk.
At the center table she poured cold tea into her cup and carried the cup to the gray room in the lean-to and set it on the reading table. Then she went to her dressing table and combed her hair, rubbed a little rouge all over her face, covered it lightly with powder, and put on the pale lipstick she always used. Last she filed her nails and cleaned them.
When she closed the door to the gray room the outside light was cut off and only the reading lamp threw its cone on the table. She arranged the pillows, patted them up, and sat down. She leaned her head experimentally against the down pillow. She felt rather gay, as though she were going to a party. Gingerly, she fished the chain out from her bodice, unscrewed the little tube, and shook the capsule into her hand. She smiled at it.
“Eat me,” she said and put the capsule in her mouth.
She picked up the tea cup. “Drink me,” she said and swallowed the bitter cold tea.
She forced her mind to stay on Alice--so tiny and waiting. Other faces peered in from the sides of her eyes--her father and mother, and Charles, and Adam, and Samuel Hamilton, and then Aron, and she could see Cal smiling at her.
He didn’t have to speak. The glint of his eyes said, “You missed something. They had something and you missed it.”
She thrust her mind back to Alice. In the gray wall opposite there was a nail hole. Alice would be in there. And she would put her arm around Cathy’s waist, and Cathy would put her arm around Alice’s waist, and they would walk away--best friends--and tiny as the head of a pin.
A warm numbness began to creep into her arms and legs. The pain was going from her hands. Her eyelids felt heavy--very heavy. She yawned.
She thought or said or thought, “Alice doesn’t know. I’m going right on past.”
Her eyes closed and a dizzy nausea shook her. She opened her eyes and stared about in terror. The gray room darkened and the cone of light flowed and rippled like water. And then her eyes closed again and her fingers curled as though they held small breasts. And her heart beat solemnly and her breathing slowed as she grew smaller and smaller and then disappeared--and she had never been.

2
When Kate dismissed him Joe went to the barbershop, as he always did when he was upset. He had his hair cut and an egg shampoo and tonic. He had a facial massage and a mud pack, and around the edges he had his nails manicured, and he had his shoes shined. Ordinarily this and a new necktie set Joe up, but he was still depressed when he left the barber with a fifty-cent tip.
Kate had trapped him like a rat--caught him with his pants down. Her fast thinking left him confused and helpless. The trick she had of leaving it to you whether she meant anything or not was no less confusing.
The night started dully, but then sixteen members and two pledges from Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Stanford chapter, came in hilarious from a pledge hazing in San Juan. They were full of horseplay.
Florence, who smoked the cigarette in the circus, had a hard cough. Every time she tried, she coughed and lost it. And the pony stallion had diarrhea.
The college boys shrieked and pounded each other in their amusement. And then they stole everything that wasn’t nailed down.
After they had left, two of the girls got into a tired and monotonous quarrel, and Therese turned up with the first symptoms of the old Joe. Oh, Christ, what a night!
And down the hall that brooding dangerous thing was silent behind its closed door. Joe stood by the door before he went to bed and he could hear nothing. He closed the house at two-thirty and was in bed by three--but he couldn’t sleep. He sat up in bed and read seven chapters of The Winning of Barbara Worth, and when it was daylight he went down to the silent kitchen and made a pot of coffee.
He rested his elbows on the table and held the coffee mug with both hands. Something had gone wrong and Joe couldn’t figure what it was. Maybe she’d found out that Ethel was dead. He’d have to watch his step. And then he made up his mind, and made it up firmly. He would go in to see her at nine and he’d keep his ears open. Maybe he hadn’t heard right. Best thing would be to lay it on the line and not be a hog. Just say he’d take a thousand bucks and get the hell out, and if she said no he’d get the hell out anyway. He was sick of working with dames. He could get a job dealing faro in Reno--regular hours and no dames. Maybe get himself an apartment and fix it up--big chairs and a davenport. No point in beating his brains out in this lousy town. Better if he got out of the state anyway. He considered going right now--just get up from this table, climb the stairs, two minutes to pack a suitcase, and gone. Three or four minutes at the most. Don’t tell nobody nothing. The idea appealed to him. The breaks about Ethel might not be as good as he thought at first, but a thousand bucks was a stake. Better wait.
When the cook came in he was in a bad mood. He had a developing carbuncle on the back of his neck and the skin from the inside of an eggshell stretched over it to draw it to a head. He didn’t want anybody in his kitchen feeling the way he did.
Joe went back to his room and read some more and then he packed his suitcase. He was going to get out any way it went.
At nine o’clock he knocked gently on Kate’s door and pushed it open. Her bed had not been slept in. He set down the tray and went to the door of the lean-to and knocked and knocked again and then called. Finally he opened the door.
The cone of light fell on the reading stand. Kate’s head was deeply cushioned in the pillow.
“You must have slept all night here,” Joe said. He walked around in front of her, saw bloodless lips and eyes shining dully between half-closed lids, and he knew she was dead.
He moved his head from side to side and went quickly into the other room to make sure that the door to the hall was closed. With great speed he went through the dresser, drawer by drawer, opened her purses, the little box by her bed--and he stood still. She didn’t have a goddam thing--not even a silver-backed hairbrush.
He crept to the lean-to and stood in front of her--not a ring, not a pin. Then he saw the little chain around her neck and lifted it clear and unsnapped the clasp--a small gold watch, a little tube, and two safe-deposit keys, numbers 27 and 29.
“So that’s where you got it, you bitch,” he said.
He slipped the watch off the thin chain and put it in his pocket. He wanted to punch her in the nose. Then he thought of her desk.
The two-line holograph will attracted him. Somebody might pay for that. He put it in his pocket. He took a handful of papers from a pigeonhole--bills and receipts; next hole, insurance; next, a small book with records of every girl. He put that in his pocket too. He took the rubber band from a packet of brown envelopes, opened one, and pulled out a photograph. On the back of the picture, in Kate’s neat, sharp handwriting, a name and address and a title.
Joe laughed aloud. This was the real breaks. He tried another envelope and another. A gold mine--guy could live for years on these. Look at that fat-ass councilman! He put the band back. In the top drawer eight ten-dollar bills and a bunch of keys. He pocketed the money too. As he opened the second drawer enough to see that it held writing paper and sealing wax and ink there was a knock on the door. He walked to it and opened it a crack.
The cook said, “Fella out here wants to see ya.”
“Who is he?”
“How the hell do I know?”
Joe looked back at the room and then stepped out, took the key from the inside, locked the door, and put the key in his pocket. He might have overlooked something.
Oscar Noble was standing in the big front room, his gray hat on his head and his red mackinaw buttoned up tight around his throat. His eyes were pale gray--the same color as his stubble whiskers. The room was in semidarkness. No one had raised the shades yet.
Joe came lightly along the hall, and Oscar asked, “You Joe?”
“Who’s asking?”
“The sheriff wants to have a talk with you.”
Joe felt ice creeping into his stomach. “Pinch?” he asked. “Got a warrant?”
“Hell, no,” said Oscar. “We got nothing on you. Just checking up. Will you come along?”
“Sure,” said Joe. “Why not?”
They went out together. Joe shivered. “I should of got a coat.”
“Want to go back for one?”
“I guess not,” said Joe.
They walked toward Castroville Street. Oscar asked, “Ever been mugged or printed?”
Joe was quiet for a time. “Yes,” he said at last.
“What for?”
“Drunk,” said Joe. “Hit a cop.”
“Well, we’ll soon find out,” said Oscar and turned the corner.
Joe ran like a rabbit, across the street and over the track toward the stores and alleys of Chinatown.
Oscar had to take a glove off and unbutton his mackinaw to get his gun out. He tried a snap shot and missed.
Joe began to zigzag. He was fifty yards away by now and nearing an opening between two buildings.
Oscar stepped to a telephone pole at the curb, braced his left elbow against it, gripped his right wrist with his left hand, and drew a bead on the entrance to the little alley. He fired just as Joe touched the front sight.
Joe splashed forward on his face and skidded a foot.
Oscar went into a Filipino poolroom to phone, and when he came out there was quite a crowd around the body.
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Chapter 51


1
In 1903 Horace Quinn beat Mr. R. Keef for the office of sheriff. He had been well trained as the chief deputy sheriff. Most of the voters figured that since Quinn was doing most of the work he might as well have the title. Sheriff Quinn held the office until 1919. He was sheriff so long that we growing up in Monterey County thought the words “Sheriff” and “Quinn” went together naturally. We could not imagine anyone else being sheriff. Quinn grew old in his office. He limped from an early injury. We knew he was intrepid, for he had held his own in various gunfights; besides, he looked like a sheriff--the only kind we knew about. His face was broad and pink, his white mustache shaped like the horns of a longhorn steer. He was broad of shoulder, and in his age he developed a portliness which only gave him more authority. He wore a fine Stetson hat, a Norfolk jacket, and in his later years carried his gun in a shoulder holster. His old belt holster tugged at his stomach too much. He had known his county in 1903 and he knew it and controlled it even better in 1917. He was an institution, as much a part of the Salinas Valley as its mountains.
In all the years since Adam’s shooting Sheriff Quinn had kept track of Kate. When Faye died, he knew instinctively that Kate was probably responsible, but he also knew he hadn’t much of any chance of convicting her, and a wise sheriff doesn’t butt his head against the impossible. They were only a couple of whores, after all.
In the years that followed, Kate played fair with him and he gradually achieved a certain respect for her. Since there were going to be houses anyway, they had better be run by responsible people. Every so often Kate spotted a wanted man and turned him in. She ran a house which did not get into trouble. Sheriff Quinn and Kate got along together.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving, about noon, Sheriff Quinn looked through the papers from Joe Valery’s pockets. The .38 slug had splashed off one side of Joe’s heart and had flattened against the ribs and torn out a section as big as a fist. The manila envelopes were glued together with blackened blood. The sheriff dampened the papers with a wet handkerchief to get them apart. He read the will, which had been folded, so that the blood was on the outside. He laid it aside and inspected the photographs in the envelopes. He sighed deeply.
Every envelope contained a man’s honor and peace of mind. Effectively used, these pictures could cause half a dozen suicides. Already Kate was on the table at Muller’s with the formalin running into her veins, and her stomach was in a jar in the corner’s office.
When he had seen all of the pictures he called a number. He said into the phone, “Can you drop over to my office? Well, put your lunch off, will you? Yes, I think you’ll see it’s important. I’ll wait for you.”
A few minutes later when the nameless man stood beside his desk in the front office of the old red county jail behind the courthouse, Sheriff Quinn stuck the will out in front of him. “As a lawyer, would you say this is any good?”
His visitor read the two lines and breathed deep through his nose. “Is this who I think it is?”
“Yes.”
“Well, if her name was Catherine Trask and this is her handwriting, and if Aron Trask is her son, this is as good as gold.”
Quinn lifted the ends of his fine wide mustache with the back of his forefinger. “You knew her, didn’t you?”
“Well, not to say know. I knew who she was.”
Quinn put his elbows on his desk and leaned forward. “Sit down, I want to talk to you.”
His visitor drew up a chair. His fingers picked at a coat button.
The sheriff asked, “Was Kate blackmailing you?”
“Certainly not. Why should she?”
“I’m asking you as a friend. You know she’s dead. You can tell me.”
“I don’t know what you’re getting at--nobody’s blackmailing me.”
Quinn slipped a photograph from its envelope, turned it like a playing card, and skidded it across the desk.
His visitor adjusted his glasses and the breath whistled in his nose. “Jesus Christ,” he said softly.
“You didn’t know she had it?”
“Oh, I knew it all right. She let me know. For Christ’s sake, Horace--what are you going to do with this?”
Quinn took the picture from his hand.
“Horace, what are you going to do with it?”
“Burn it.” The sheriff ruffled the edges of the envelopes with his thumb. “Here’s a deck of hell,” he said. “These could tear the county to pieces.”
Quinn wrote a list of names on a sheet of paper. Then he hoisted himself up on his game leg and went to the iron stove against the north wall of his office. He crunched up the Salinas Morning Journal and lighted it and dropped it in the stove, and when it flared up he dropped the manila envelopes on the flame, set the damper, and closed the stove. The fire roared and the flames winked yellow behind the little isinglass windows in the front of the stove. Quinn brushed his hands together as though they were dirty. “The negatives were in there,” he said. “I’ve been through her desk. There weren’t any other prints.”
His visitor tried to speak but his voice was a husky whisper. “Thank you, Horace.”
The sheriff gimped to his desk and picked up his list. “I want you to do something for me. Here’s a list. Tell everyone on this list I’ve burned the pictures. You know them all, God knows. And they could take it from you. Nobody’s holy. Get each man alone and tell him exactly what happened. Look here!” He opened the stove door and poked the black sheets until they were reduced to powder. “Tell them that,” he said.
His visitor looked at the sheriff, and Quinn knew that there was no power on earth that could keep this man from hating him. For the rest of their lives there would be a barrier between them, and neither one could ever admit it.
“Horace, I don’t know how to thank you.”
And the sheriff said in sorrow, “That’s all right. It’s what I’d want my friends to do for me.”
“The goddam bitch,” his visitor said softly, and Horace Quinn knew that part of the curse was for him.
And he knew he wouldn’t be sheriff much longer. These guilt-feeling men could get him out, and they would have to. He sighed and sat down. “Go to your lunch now,” he said. “I’ve got work to do.”
At quarter of one Sheriff Quinn turned off Main Street on Central Avenue. At Reynaud’s Bakery he bought a loaf of French bread, still warm and giving off its wonderful smell of fermented dough.
He used the hand rail to help himself up the steps of the Trask porch.
Lee answered the door, a dish towel tied around his middle. “He’s not home,” he said.
“Well, he’s on his way. I called the draft board. I’ll wait for him.”
Lee moved aside and let him in and seated him in the living room. “You like a nice cup of hot coffee?” he asked.
“I don’t mind if I do.”
“Fresh made,” said Lee and went into the kitchen.
Quinn looked around the comfortable sitting room. He felt that he didn’t want his office much longer. He remembered hearing a doctor say, “I love to deliver a baby, because if I do my work well, there’s joy at the end of it.” The sheriff had thought often of that remark. It seemed to him that if he did his work well there was sorrow at the end of it for somebody. The fact that it was necessary was losing its weight with him. He would be retiring soon whether he wanted to or not.
Every man has a retirement picture in which he does those things he never had time to do--makes the journeys, reads the neglected books he always pretended to have read. For many years the sheriff dreamed of spending the shining time hunting and fishing--wandering in the Santa Lucia range, camping by half-remembered streams. And now that it was almost time he knew he didn’t want to do it. Sleeping on the ground would make his leg ache. He remembered how heavy a deer is and how hard it is to carry the dangling limp body from the place of the kill. And, frankly, he didn’t care for venison anyway. Madame Reynaud could soak it in wine and lace it with spice but, hell, an old shoe would taste good with that treatment.
Lee had bought a percolator. Quinn could hear the water spluttering against the glass dome, and his long-trained mind made the suggestion that Lee hadn’t told the truth about having fresh-made coffee.
It was a good mind the old man had--sharpened in its work. He could bring up whole faces in his mind and inspect them, and also scenes and conversations. He could play them over like a record or a film. Thinking of venison, his mind had gone about cataloguing the sitting room and his mind nudged him, saying, “Hey, there’s something wrong here--something strange.”
The sheriff heeded the voice and looked at the room--flowered chintz, lace curtains, white drawn-work table cover, cushions on the couch covered with a bright and impudent print. It was a feminine room in a house where only men lived.
He thought of his own sitting room. Mrs. Quinn had chosen, bought, cleaned, every single thing in it except a pipestand. Come to think of it, she had bought the pipestand for him. There was a woman’s room too. But this was a fake. It was too feminine--a woman’s room designed by a man--and overdone, too feminine. That would be Lee. Adam wouldn’t even see it, let alone put it together--no--Lee trying to make a home, and Adam not even seeing it.
Horace Quinn remembered questioning Adam so very long ago, remembered him as a man in agony. He could still see Adam’s haunted and horrified eyes. He had thought then of Adam as a man of such honesty that he couldn’t conceive anything else. And in the years he had seen much of Adam. They both belonged to the Masonic Order. They went through the chairs together. Horace followed Adam as Master of the Lodge and both of them wore their Past Master’s pins. And Adam had been set apart--an invisible wall cut him off from the world. You couldn’t get into him--he couldn’t get out to you. But in that old agony there had been no wall.
In his wife Adam had touched the living world. Horace thought of her now, gray and washed, the needles in her throat and the rubber formalin tubes hanging down from the ceiling.
Adam could do no dishonesty. He didn’t want anything. You had to crave something to be dishonest. The sheriff wondered what went on behind the wall, what pressures, what pleasures and achings.
He shifted his behind to ease the pressure on his leg. The house was still except for the bouncing coffee. Adam was long coming from the draft board. The amused thought came to the sheriff, I’m getting old, and I kind of like it.
Then he heard Adam at the front door. Lee heard him too and darted into the hall. “The sheriff’s here,” said Lee, to warn him perhaps.
Adam came in smiling and held out his hand. “Hello, Horace--have you got a warrant?” It was a damn good try at a joke.
“Howdy,” Quinn said. “Your man is going to give me a cup of coffee.”
Lee went to the kitchen and rattled dishes.
Adam said, “Anything wrong, Horace?”
“Everything’s always wrong in my business. I’ll wait till the coffee comes.”
“Don’t mind Lee. He listens anyway. He can hear through a closed door. I don’t keep anything from him because I can’t.”
Lee came in with a tray. He was smiling remotely to himself, and when he had poured the coffee and gone out Adam asked again, “Is there anything wrong, Horace?”
“No, I don’t think so. Adam, was that woman still married to you?”
Adam became rigid. “Yes,” he said. “What’s the matter?”
“She killed herself last night.”
Adam’s face contorted and his eyes swelled and glistened with tears. He fought his mouth and then he gave up and put his face down in his hands and wept. “Oh, my poor darling!” he said.
Quinn sat quietly and let him have it out, and after a time Adam’s control came back and he raised his head. “Excuse me, Horace,” he said.
Lee came in from the kitchen and put a damp towel in his hands, and Adam sponged his eyes and handed it back.
“I didn’t expect that,” Adam said, and his face was ashamed. “What shall I do? I’ll claim her. I’ll bury her.”
“I wouldn’t,” said Horace. “That is, unless you feel you have to. That’s not what I came about.” He took the folded will from his pocket and held it out.
Adam shrank from it. “Is--is that her blood?”
“No, it’s not. It’s not her blood at all. Read it.”
Adam read the two lines and went right on staring at the paper and beyond it. “He doesn’t know--she is his mother.”
“You never told him?”
“No.”
“Jesus Christ!” said the sheriff.
Adam said earnestly, “I’m sure he wouldn’t want anything of hers. Let’s just tear it up and forget it. If he knew, I don’t think Aron would want anything of hers.”
“ ’Fraid you can’t,” Quinn said. “We do quite a few illegal things. She had a safe-deposit box. I don’t have to tell you where I got the will or the key. I went to the bank. Didn’t wait for a court order. Thought it might have a bearing.” He didn’t tell Adam he thought there might be more pictures. “Well, Old Bob let me open the box. We can always deny it. There’s over a hundred thousand dollars in gold certificates. There’s money in there in bales--and there isn’t one goddam thing in there but money.”
“Nothing?”
“One other thing--a marriage certificate.”
Adam leaned back in his chair. The remoteness was coming down again, the soft protective folds between himself and the world. He saw his coffee and took a sip of it. “What do you think I ought to do?” he asked steadily and quietly.
“I can only tell you what I’d do,” Sheriff Quinn said. “You don’t have to take my advice. I’d have the boy in right now. I’d tell him everything--every single thing. I’d even tell him why you didn’t tell him before. He’s--how old?”
“Seventeen.”
“He’s a man. He’s got to take it some time. Better if he gets the whole thing at once.”
“Cal knows,” said Adam. “I wonder why she made the will to Aron?”
“God knows. Well, what do you think?”
“I don’t know, and so I’m going to do what you say. Will you stay with me?”
“Sure I will.”
“Lee,” Adam called, “tell Aron I want him. He has come home, hasn’t he?”
Lee came to the doorway. His heavy lids closed for a moment and then opened. “Not yet. Maybe he went back to school.”
“He would have told me. You know, Horace, we drank a lot of champagne on Thanksgiving. Where’s Cal?”
“In his room,” said Lee.
“Well, call him. Get him in. Cal will know.”
Cal’s face was tired and his shoulders sagged with exhaustion, but his face was pinched and closed and crafty and mean.
Adam asked, “Do you know where your brother is?”
“No, I don’t,” said Cal.
“Weren’t you with him at all?”
“No.”
“He hasn’t been home for two nights. Where is he?”
“How do I know?” said Cal. “Am I supposed to look after him?”
Adam’s head sank down, his body jarred, just a little quiver. In back of his eyes a tiny sharp incredibly bright blue light flashed. He said thickly, “Maybe he did go back to college.” His lips seemed heavy and he murmured like a man talking in his sleep. “Don’t you think he went back to college?”
Sheriff Quinn stood up. “Anything I got to do I can do later. You get a rest, Adam. You’ve had a shock.”
Adam looked up at him. “Shock--oh, yes. Thank you, George. Thank you very much.”
“George?”
“Thank you very much,” said Adam.
When the sheriff had gone, Cal went to his room. Adam leaned back in his chair, and very soon he went to sleep and his mouth dropped open and he snored across his palate.
Lee watched him for a while before he went back to his kitchen. He lifted the breadbox and took out a tiny volume bound in leather, and the gold tooling was almost completely worn away--The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius in English translation.
Lee wiped his steel-rimmed spectacles on a dish towel. He opened the book and leafed through. And he smiled to himself, consciously searching for reassurance.
He read slowly, moving his lips over the words. “Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and that which is remembered.
“Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the universe loves nothing so much as to change things which are and to make new things like them. For everything that exists is in a manner the seed of that which will be.”
Lee glanced down the page. “Thou wilt die soon and thou are not yet simple nor free from perturbations, nor without suspicion of being hurt by external things, nor kindly disposed towards all; nor dost thou yet place wisdom only in acting justly.”
Lee looked up from the page, and he answered the book as he would answer one of his ancient relatives. “That is true,” he said. “It’s very hard. I’m sorry. But don’t forget that you also say, ‘Always run the short way and the short way is the natural’--don’t forget that.” He let the pages slip past his fingers to the fly leaf where was written with a broad carpenter’s pencil, “Sam’l Hamilton.”
Suddenly Lee felt good. He wondered whether Sam’l Hamilton had ever missed his book or known who stole it. It had seemed to Lee the only clean pure way was to steal it. And he still felt good about it. His fingers caressed the smooth leather of the binding as he took it back and slipped it under the breadbox. He said to himself, “But of course he knew who took it. Who else would have stolen Marcus Aurelius?” He went into the sitting room and pulled a chair near to the sleeping Adam.
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2

In his room Cal sat at his desk, elbows down, palms holding his aching head together, hands pushing against the sides of his head. His stomach churned and the sour-sweet smell of whisky was on him and in him, living in his pores, in his clothing, beating sluggishly in his head.
Cal had never drunk before, had never needed to. But going to Kate’s had been no relief from pain and his revenge had been no triumph. His memory was all swirling clouds and broken pieces of sound and sight and feeling. What now was true and what was imagined he could not separate. Coming out of Kate’s he had touched his sobbing brother and Aron had cut him down with a fist like a whip. Aron had stood over him in the dark and then suddenly turned and ran, screaming like a brokenhearted child. Cal could still hear the hoarse cries over running footsteps. Cal had lain still where he had fallen under the tall privet in Kate’s front yard. He heard the engines puffing and snorting by the roundhouse and the crash of freight cars being assembled. Then he had closed his eyes and, hearing light steps and feeling a presence, he looked up. Someone was bending over him and he thought it was Kate. The figure moved quietly away.
After a while Cal had stood up and brushed himself and walked toward Main Street. He was surprised at how casual his feeling was. He sang softly under his breath, “There’s a rose that grows in no man’s land and ‘tis wonderful to see--”
On Friday Cal brooded the whole day long. And in the evening Joe Laguna bought the quart of whisky for him. Cal was too young to purchase. Joe wanted to accompany Cal, but Joe was satisfied with the dollar Cal gave him and went back for a pint of grappa.
Cal went to the alley behind the Abbot House and found the shadow behind a post where he had sat the night he first saw his mother. He sat cross-legged on the ground, and then, in spite of revulsion and nausea, he forced the whisky into himself. Twice he vomited and then went on drinking until the earth tipped and swayed and the streetlight spun majestically in a circle.
The bottle slipped from his hand finally and Cal passed out, but even unconscious he still vomited weakly. A serious, short-haired dog-about-town with a curling tail sauntered into the alley, making his stations, but he smelled Cal and took a wide circle around him. Joe Laguna found him and smelled him too. Joe shook the bottle leaning against Cal’s leg and Joe held it up to the streetlight and saw that it was one-third full. He looked for the cork and couldn’t find it. He walked away, his thumb over the neck to keep the whisky from sloshing out.
When in the cold dawn a frost awakened Cal to a sick world he struggled home like a broken bug. He hadn’t far to go, just to the alley mouth and then across the street.
Lee heard him at the door and smelled his nastiness as he bumped along the hall to his room and fell over on his bed. Cal’s head shattered with pain and he was wide awake. He had no resistance against sorrow and no device to protect himself against shame. After a while he did the best he could. He bathed in icy water and scrubbed and scratched his body with a block of pumice stone, and the pain of his scraping seemed good to him.
He knew that he had to tell his guilt to his father and beg his forgiveness. And he had to humble himself to Aron, not only now but always. He could not live without that. And yet, when he was called out and stood in the room with Sheriff Quinn and his father, he was as raw and angry as a surly dog and his hatred of himself turned outward toward everyone--a vicious cur he was, unloved, unloving.
Then he was back in his room and his guilt assaulted him and he had no weapon to fight it off.
A panic for Aron arose in him. He might be injured, might be in trouble. It was Aron who couldn’t take care of himself. Cal knew he had to bring Aron back, had to find him and build him back the way he had been. And this had to be done even though Cal sacrificed himself. And then the idea of sacrifice took hold of him the way it does with all guilty-feeling men. A sacrifice might reach Aron and bring him back.
Cal went to his bureau and got the flat package from under his handkerchiefs in his drawer. He looked around the room and brought a porcelain pin tray to his desk. He breathed deeply and found the cool air good tasting. He lifted one of the crisp bills, creased it in the middle so’ that it made an angle, and then he scratched a match under his desk and lighted the bill. The heavy paper curled and blackened, the flame ran upward, and only when the fire was about his fingertips did Cal drop the charred chip in the pin tray. He stripped off another bill and lighted it.
When six were burned Lee came in without knocking. “I smelled smoke,” and then he saw what Cal was doing. “Oh!” he said.
Cal braced himself for intervention but none came. Lee folded his hands across his middle and stood silently--waiting. Cal doggedly lighted bill after bill until all were burned, and then he crushed the black chips down to powder and waited for Lee to comment, but Lee did not speak or move.
At last Cal said, “Go ahead--you want to talk to me. Go ahead!”
“No,” said Lee, “I don’t. And if you have no need to talk to me--I’ll stay a while and then I’ll go away. I’ll sit down here.” He squatted in a chair, folded his hands, and waited. He smiled to himself, the expression that is called inscrutable.
Cal turned from him. “I can outsit you,” he said.
“In a contest maybe,” said Lee. “But in day to day, year to year--who knows?--century to century sitting--no, Cal. You’d lose.”
After a few moments Cal said peevishly, “I wish you’d get on with your lecture.”
“I don’t have a lecture.”
“What the hell are you doing here then? You know what I did, and I got drunk last night.”
“I suspect the first and I can smell the second.”
“Smell?”
“You still smell,” said Lee.
“First time,” said Cal. “I don’t like it.”
“I don’t either,” said Lee. “I’ve got a bad stomach for liquor. Besides it makes me playful, intellectual but playful.”
“How do you mean, Lee?”
“I can only give you an example. In my younger days I played tennis. I liked it, and it was also a good thing for a servant to do. He could pick up his master’s flubs at doubles and get no thanks but a few dollars for it. Once, I think it was sherry that time, I developed the theory that the fastest and most elusive animals in the world are bats. I was apprehended in the middle of the night in the bell tower of the Methodist Church in San Leandro. I had a racquet, and I seem to have explained to the arresting officer that I was improving my backhand on bats.”
Cal laughed with such amusement that Lee almost wished he had done it.
Cal said, “I just sat behind a post and drank like a pig.”
“Always animals--”
“I was afraid if I didn’t get drunk I’d shoot myself, Cal interrupted.
“You’d never do that. You’re too mean,” said Lee. “By the way, where is Aron?”
“He ran away. I don’t know where he went. “He’s not too mean,” said Lee nervously. “I know it. That’s what I thought about. You don’t think he would, do you, Lee?”
Lee said testily, “Goddam it, whenever a person wants reassurance he tells a friend to think what he wants to be true. It’s like asking a waiter what’s good tonight. How the hell do I know?”
Cal cried, “Why did I do it--why did I do it?”
“Don’t make it complicated,” Lee said. You know why you did it. You were mad at him, and you were mad at him because your father hurt your feelings. That’s not difficult. You were just mean.”
“I guess that’s what I wonder--why I’m mean. Lee, I don’t want to be mean. Help me, Lee!”
“Just a second,” Lee said. “I thought I heard your father.” He darted out the door.
Cal heard voices for a moment and then Lee came back to the room. “He’s going to the post office. We never get any mail in midafternoon. Nobody does. But every man in Salinas goes to the post office in the afternoon.”
“Some get a drink on the way, said Cal. “I guess it is a kind of a habit and a kind of a rest. They see their friends.” And Lee said, “Cal--I don’t like your father’s looks. He’s got a dazed look. Oh, I forgot. You don’t know. Your mother committed suicide last night.”
Cal said, “Did she?” and then he snarled, I hope it hurt. No, I don’t want to say that. I don’t want to think that. There it is again. There it is! I don’t--want it--Lee scratched a spot on his head, and that started his whole head to itching, and he scratched it all over, taking his time. It gave him the appearance of deep thought. He said, “Did burning the money give you much pleasure?”
“I--I guess so.”
“And are you taking pleasure from this whipping you’re giving yourself? Are you enjoying your despair?”
“Lee!”
“You’re pretty full of yourself. You’re marveling at the tragic spectacle of Caleb Trask--Caleb the magnificent, the unique. Caleb whose suffering should have its Homer. Did you ever think of yourself as a snot-nose kid--mean sometimes, incredibly generous sometimes? Dirty in your habits, and curiously pure in your mind. Maybe you have a little more energy than most, just energy, but outside of that you’re very like all the other snot-nose kids. Are you trying to attract dignity and tragedy to yourself because your mother was a whore? And if anything should have happened to your brother, will you be able to sneak for yourself the eminence of being a murderer, snot-nose?”
Cal turned slowly back to his desk. Lee watched him, holding his breath the way a doctor watches for the reaction to a hypodermic. Lee could see the reactions flaring through Cal--the rage at insult, the belligerence, and the hurt feelings following behind and out of that--just the beginning of relief.
Lee sighed. He had worked so hard, so tenderly, and his work seemed to have succeeded. He said softly, “We’re a violent people, Cal. Does it seem strange to you that I include myself? Maybe it’s true that we are all descended from the restless, the nervous, the criminals, the arguers and brawlers, but also the brave and independent and generous. If our ancestors had not been that, they would have stayed in their home plots in the other world and starved over the squeezed-out soil.”
Cal turned his head toward Lee, and his face had lost its tightness. He smiled, and Lee knew he had not fooled the boy entirely. Cal knew now it was a job--a well-done job--and he was grateful.
Lee went on, “That’s why I include myself. We all have that heritage, no matter what old land our fathers left. All colors and blends of Americans have somewhat the same tendencies. It’s a breed--selected out by accident. And so we’re overbrave and overfearful--we’re kind and cruel as children. We’re overfriendly and at the same time frightened of strangers. We boast and are impressed. We’re oversentimental and realistic. We are mundane and materialistic--and do you know of any other nation that acts for ideals? We eat too much. We have no taste, no sense of proportion. We throw our energy about like waste. In the old lands they say of us that we go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening culture. Can it be that our critics have not the key or the language of our culture? That’s what we are, Cal--all of us. You aren’t very different.”
“Talk away,” said Cal, and he smiled and repeated, “Talk away.”
“I don’t need to any more,” said Lee. “I’m finished now. I wish your father would come back. He worries me.” And Lee went nervously out.
In the hall just inside the front door he found Adam leaning against the wall, his hat low over his eyes and his shoulders slumped.
“Adam, what’s the matter with you?”
“I don’t know. Seem tired. Seem tired.”
Lee took him by the arm, and it seemed that he had to guide him toward the living room. Adam fell heavily into his chair, and Lee took the hat from his head. Adam rubbed the back of his left hand with his right. His eyes were strange, very clear but unmoving. And his lips were dry and thickened and his speech had the sound of a dream talker, slow and coming from a distance. He rubbed his hand harshly. “Strange thing,” he said, “I must have fainted--in the post office. I never faint. Mr. Pioda helped me up. Just for a second it was, I guess. I never faint.”
Lee asked, “Was there any mail?”
“Yes--yes--I think there was mail.” He put his left hand in his pocket and in a moment took it out. “My hand is kind of numb,” he said apologetically and reached across with his right hand and brought out a yellow government postcard.
“Thought I read it,” he said. “I must have read it.” He held it up before his eyes and then dropped the card in his lap. “Lee, I guess I’ve got to get glasses. Never needed them in my life. Can’t read it. Letters jump around.”
“Shall I read it?”
“Funny--well, I’ll go first thing for glasses. Yes, what does it say?”
And Lee read,” ‘Dear Father, I’m in the army. I told them I was eighteen. I’ll be all right. Don’t worry about me. Aron.’ ”
“Funny,” said Adam. “Seems like I read it. But I guess I didn’t.” He rubbed his hand.
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Chapter 52


1
That winter of 1917-1918 was a dark and frightened time. The Germans smashed everything in front of them. In three months the British suffered three hundred thousand casualties. Many units of the French army were mutinous. Russia was out of the war. The German east divisions, rested and re-equipped, were thrown at the western front. The war seemed hopeless.
It was May before we had as many as twelve divisions in the field, and summer had come before our troops began to move across the sea in numbers. The Allied generals were fighting each other. Submarines slaughtered the crossing ships.
We learned then that war was not a quick heroic charge but a slow, incredibly complicated matter. Our spirits sank in those winter months. We lost the flare of excitement and we had not yet put on the doggedness of a long war.
Ludendorff was unconquerable. Nothing stopped him. He mounted attack after attack on the broken armies of France and England. And it occurred to us that we might be too late, that soon we might be standing alone against the invincible Germans.
It was not uncommon for people to turn away from the war, some to fantasy and some to vice and some to crazy gaiety. Fortunetellers were in great demand, and saloons did a roaring business. But people also turned inward to their private joys and tragedies to escape the pervasive fear and despondency. Isn’t it strange that today we have forgotten this? We remember World War I as quick victory, with flags and bands, marching and horseplay and returning soldiers, fights in the barrooms with the goddam Limeys who thought they had won the war. How quickly we forgot that in that winter Ludendorff could not be beaten and that many people were preparing in their minds and spirits for a lost war.

2
Adam Trask was more puzzled than sad. He didn’t have to resign from the draft board. He was given a leave of absence for ill health. He sat by the hour rubbing the back of his left hand. He brushed it with a harsh brush and soaked it in hot water.
“It’s circulation,” he said. “As soon as I get the circulation back it’ll be all right. It’s my eyes that bother me. I never had trouble with my eyes. Guess I’ll have to get my eyes tested for glasses. Me with glasses! Be hard to get used to. I’d go today but I feel a little dizzy.”
He felt more dizzy than he would admit. He could not move about the house without a hand brace against a wall. Lee often had to give him a hand-up out of his chair or help him out of bed in the morning and tie his shoes because he could not tie knots with his numb left hand.
Almost daily he came back to Aron. “I can understand why a young man might want to enlist,” he said. “If Aron had talked to me, I might have tried to persuade him against it, but I wouldn’t have forbidden it. You know that, Lee.”
“I know it.”
“That’s what I can’t understand. Why did he sneak away? Why doesn’t he write? I thought I knew him better than that. Has he written to Abra? He’d be sure to write to her.”
“I’ll ask her.”
“You do that. Do that right away.”
“The training is hard. That’s what I’ve heard. Maybe they don’t give him time.”
“It doesn’t take any time to write a card.”
“When you went in the army, did you write to your father?”
“Think you’ve got me there, don’t you? No, I didn’t, but I had a reason. I didn’t want to enlist. My father forced me. I was resentful. You see, I had a good reason. But Aron--he was doing fine in college. Why, they’ve written, asking about him. You read the letter. He didn’t take any clothes. He didn’t take the gold watch.”
“He wouldn’t need any clothes in the army, and they don’t want gold watches there either. Everything’s brown.”
“I guess you’re right. But I don’t understand it. I’ve got to do something about my eyes. Can’t ask you to read everything to me.” His eyes really troubled him. “I can see a letter,” he said. “But the words jumble all around.” A dozen times a day he seized a paper or a book and stared at it and put it down.
Lee read the papers to him to keep him from getting restless, and often in the middle of the reading Adam went to sleep.
He would awaken and say, “Lee? Is that you, Cal? You know I never had any trouble with my eyes. I’ll just go tomorrow and get my eyes tested.”
About the middle of February Cal went into the kitchen and said, “Lee, he talks about it all the time. Let’s get his eyes tested.”
Lee was stewing” apricots. He left the stove and closed the kitchen door and went back to the stove. “I don’t want him to go,” he said.
“Why not?”
“I don’t think it’s his eyes. Finding out might trouble him. Let him be for a while. He’s had a bad shock. Let him get better. I’ll read to him all he wants.”
“What do you think it is?”
“I don’t want to say. I’ve thought maybe Dr. Edwards might just come by for a friendly call--just to say hello.”
“Have it your own way,” said Cal.
Lee said, “Cal, have you seen Abra?”
“Sure, I see her. She walks away.”
“Can’t you catch her?”
“Sure--and I could throw her down and punch her in the face and make her talk to me. But I won’t.”
“Maybe if you’d just break the ice. Sometimes the barrier is so weak it just falls over when you touch it. Catch up with her. Tell her I want to see her.”
“I won’t do it.”
“You feel awful guilty, don’t you?”
Cal did not answer.
“Don’t you like her?”
Cal did not answer.
“If you keep this up, you’re going to feel worse, not better. You’d better open up. I’m warning you. You’d better open up.”
Cal cried, “Do you want me to tell Father what I did? I’ll do it if you tell me to.”
“No, Cal. Not now. But when he gets well you’ll have to. You’ll have to for yourself. You can’t carry this alone. It will kill you.”
“Maybe I deserve to be killed.”
“Stop that!” Lee said coldly. “That can be the cheapest kind of self-indulgence. You stop that!”
“How do you go about stopping it?” Cal asked.
Lee changed the subject. “I don’t understand why Abra hasn’t been here--not even once.”
“No reason to come now.”
“It’s not like her. Something’s wrong there. Have you seen her?”
Cal scowled. “I told you I have. You’re getting crazy too. Tried to talk to her three times. She walked away.”
“Something’s wrong. She’s a good woman--a real woman.”
“She’s a girl,” said Cal. “It sounds funny you calling her a woman.”
“No,” Lee said softly. “A few are women from the moment they’re born. Abra has the loveliness of woman, and the courage--and the strength--and the wisdom. She knows things and she accepts things. I would have bet she couldn’t be small or mean or even vain except when it’s pretty to be vain.”
“You sure do think well of her.”
“Well enough to think she wouldn’t desert us.” And he said, “I miss her. Ask her to come to see me.”
“I told you she walked away from me.”
“Well, chase her then. Tell her I want to see her. I miss her.”
Cal asked, “Shall we go back to my father’s eyes now?”
“No,” said Lee.
“Shall we talk about Aron?”
“No.”
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3

Cal tried all the next day to find Abra alone, and it was only after school that he saw her ahead of him, walking home. He turned a corner and ran along the parallel street and then back, and he judged time and distance so that he turned in front of her as she strolled along.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello. I thought I saw you behind me.”
“You did. I ran around the block to get in front of you. I want to talk to you.”
She regarded him gravely. “You could have done « that without running around the block.”
“Well, I tried to talk to you in school. You walked away.”
“You were mad. I didn’t want to talk to you mad.”
“How do you know I was?”
“I could see it in your face and the way you walked. You’re not mad now.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Do you want to take my books?” She smiled.
A warmth fell on him. “Yes--yes, I do.” He put her schoolbooks under his arm and walked beside her. “Lee wants to see you. He asked me to tell you.”
She was pleased. “Does he? Tell him I’ll come. How’s your father?”
“Not very well. His eyes bother him.”
They walked along in silence until Cal couldn’t stand it any more. “You know about Aron?”
“Yes.” She paused. “Open my binder and look next to the first page.”
He shifted the books. A penny postcard was in the binder. “Dear Abra,” it said. “I don’t feel clean. I’m not fit for you. Don’t be sorry. I’m in the army. Don’t go near my father. Good-by, Aron.”
Cal snapped the book shut. “The son of a bitch,” he said under his breath.
“What?”
“Nothing.”
“I heard what you said.”
“Do you know why he went away?”
“No. I guess I could figure out--put two and two together. I don’t want to. I’m not ready to--that is, unless you want to tell me.”
Suddenly Cal said, “Abra--do you hate me?”
“No, Cal, but you hate me a little. Why is that?”
“I--I’m afraid of you.”
“No need to be.”
“I’ve hurt you more than you know. And you’re my brother’s girl.”
“How have you hurt me? And I’m not your brother’s girl.”
“All right,” he said bitterly, “I’ll tell you--and I don’t want you to forget you asked me to. Our mother was a whore. She ran a house here in town. I found out about it a long time ago. Thanksgiving night I took Aron down and showed her to him. I--”
Abra broke in excitedly, “What did he do?”
“He went mad--just crazy. He yelled at her. Outside he knocked me down and ran away. Our dear mother killed herself; my father--he’s--there’s something wrong with him. Now you know about me. Now you have some reason to walk away from me.”
“Now I know about him,” she said calmly.
“My brother?”
“Yes, your brother.”
“He was good. Why did I say was? He is good. He’s not mean or dirty like me.”
They had been walking very slowly. Abra stopped and Cal stopped and she faced him.
“Cal,” she said, “I’ve known about your mother for a long, long time.”
“You have?”
“I heard my parents talking when they thought I was asleep. I want to tell you something, and it’s hard to tell and it’s good to tell.”
“You want to?”
“I have to. It’s not so terribly long ago that I grew up and I wasn’t a little girl any more. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yes,” said Cal.
“You sure you know?”
“Yes.”
“All right then. It’s hard to say now. I wish I’d said it then. I didn’t love Aron any more.”
“Why not?”
“I’ve tried to figure it out. When we were children we lived in a story that we made up. But when I grew up the story wasn’t enough. I had to have something else, because the story wasn’t true any more.”
“Well--”
“Wait--let me get it all out. Aron didn’t grow up. Maybe he never will. He wanted the story and he wanted it to come out his way. He couldn’t stand to have it come out any other way.”
“How about you?”
“I don’t want to know how it comes out. I only want to be there while it’s going on. And, Cal--we were kind of strangers. We kept it going because we were used to it. But I didn’t believe the story any more.”
“How about Aron?”
“He was going to have it come out his way if he had to tear the world up by the roots.”
Cal stood looking at the ground.
Abra said, “Do you believe me?”
“I’m trying to study it out.”
“When you’re a child you’re the center of everything. Everything happens for you. Other people? They’re only ghosts furnished for you to talk to. But when you grow up you take your place and you’re your own size and shape. Things go out of you to others and come in from other people. It’s worse, but it’s much better too. I’m glad you told me about Aron.”
“Why?”
“Because now I know I didn’t make it all up. He couldn’t stand to know about his mother because that’s not how he wanted the story to go--and he wouldn’t have any other story. So he tore up the world. It’s the same way he tore me up--Abra--when he wanted to be a priest.”
Cal said, “I’ll have to think.”
“Give me my books,” she said. “Tell Lee I’ll come. I feel free now. I want to think too. I think I love you, Cal.”
“I’m not good.”
“Because you’re not good.”
Cal walked quickly home. “She’ll come tomorrow,” he told Lee.
“Why, you’re excited,” said Lee.
4
Once in the house Abra walked on her toes. In the hall she moved close to the wall where the floor did not creak. She put her foot on the lowest step of the carpeted stairs, changed her mind, and went to the kitchen.
“Here you are,” her mother said. “You didn’t come straight home.”
“I had to stay after class. Is Father better?”
“I guess so.”
“What does the doctor say?”
“Same thing he said at first--overwork. Just needs a rest.”
“He hasn’t seemed tired,” said Abra.
Her mother opened a bin and took out three baking potatoes and carried them to the sink. “Your Father’s very brave, dear. I should have known. He’s been doing so much war work on top of his own work. The doctor says sometimes a man collapses all at once.”
“Shall I go in and see him?”
“You know, Abra, I’ve got a feeling that he doesn’t want to see anybody. Judge Knudsen phoned and your father said to tell him he was asleep.”
“Can I help you?”
“Go change your dress, dear. You don’t want to get your pretty dress soiled.
Abra tiptoed past her father’s door and went to her own room. It was harsh bright with varnish, papered brightly. Framed photographs of her parents on the bureau, poems framed on the walls, and her closet--everything in its place, the floor varnished, and her shoes standing diligently side by side. Her mother did everything for her, insisted on it--planned for her, dressed her.
Abra had long ago given up having any private things in her room, even any personal thing. This was of such long standing that Abra did not think of her room as a private place. Her privacies were of the mind. The few letters she kept were in the sitting room itself, filed among the pages of the two-volume Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, which to the best of her knowledge had never been opened by anyone but herself since it came off the press.
Abra felt pleased, and she did not inspect the reason. She knew certain things without question, and such things she did not speak about. For example, she knew that her father was not ill. He was hiding from something. Just as surely she knew that Adam Trask was ill, for she had seen him walking along the street. She wondered whether her mother knew her father was not ill.
Abra slipped off her dress and put on a cotton pinafore, which was understood to be for working around the house. She brushed her hair, tiptoed past her father’s room, and went downstairs. At the foot of the stairs she opened her binder and took out Aron’s postcard. In the sitting room she shook Aron’s letters out of Volume II of the Memoirs, folded them tightly, and, raising her skirt, tucked them under the elastic which held up her panties. The package made her a little lumpy. In the kitchen she put on a full apron to conceal the bulge.
“You can scrape the carrots,” her mother said. “Is that water hot?”
“Just coming to a boil.”
“Drop a bouillon cube in that cup, will you, dear? The doctor says it’ll build your father up.”
When her mother carried the steaming cup upstairs, Abra opened the incinerator end of the gas stove, put in the letters, and lighted them.
Her mother came back, saying, “I smell fire.”
“I lit the trash. It was full.”
“I wish you’d ask me when you want to do a thing like that,” her mother said. “I was saving the trash to warm the kitchen in the morning.”
“I’m sorry, Mother,” Abra said. “I didn’t think.”
“You should try to think of these things. It seems to me you’re getting very thoughtless lately.”
“I’m sorry, Mother.”
“Saved is earned,” said her mother.
The telephone rang in the dining room. Her mother went to answer it. Abra heard her mother say, “No, you can’t see him. It’s doctor’s orders. He can’t see anyone--no, not anyone.”
She came back to the kitchen. “Judge Knudsen again,” she said.
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Variety is the spice of life

Zodijak Aquarius
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Zastava Srbija
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Chapter 53


1
All during school next day Abra felt good about going to see Lee. She met Cal in the hall between classes. “Did you tell him I was coming?”
“He’s started some kind of tarts,” said Cal. He was dressed in his uniform--choking high collar, ill-fitting tunic, and wrapped leggings.
“You’ve got drill,” Abra said. “I’ll get there first. What kind of tarts?”
“I don’t know. But leave me a couple, will you? Smelled like strawberry. Just leave me two.”
“Want to see a present I got for Lee? Look!” She opened a little cardboard box. “It’s a new kind of potato peeler. Takes off just the skin. It’s easy. I got it for Lee.”
“There go my tarts,” said Cal, and then, “If I’m a little late, don’t go before I get there, will you?”
“Would you like to carry my books home?”
“Yes,” said Cal.
She looked at him long, full in the eyes, until he wanted to drop his gaze, and then she walked away toward her class.

2
Adam had taken to sleeping late, or, rather, he had taken to sleeping very often--short sleeps during the night and during the day. Lee looked in on him several times before he found him awake.
“I feel fine this morning,” Adam said.
“If you can call it morning. It’s nearly eleven o’clock.”
“Good Lord! I have to get up.”
“What for?” Lee asked.
“What for? Yes, what for! But I feel good, Lee. I might walk down to the draft board. How is it outside?”
“Raw,” said Lee.
He helped Adam get up. Buttons and shoelaces and getting things on frontways gave Adam trouble.
While Lee helped him Adam said, “I had a dream--very real. I dreamed about my father.”
“A great old gentleman from all I hear,” said Lee. “I read that portfolio of clippings your brother’s lawyer sent. Must have been a great old gentleman.”
Adam looked calmly at Lee. “Did you know he was a thief?”
“You must have had a dream,” said Lee. “He’s buried at Arlington. One clipping said the Vice President was at his funeral, and the Secretary of War. You know the Salinas Index might like to do a piece about him--in wartime, you know. How would you like to go over the material?”
“He was a thief,” said Adam. “I didn’t think so once, but I do now. He stole from the G.A.R.”
“I don’t believe it,” said Lee.
There were tears in Adam’s eyes. Very often these days tears came suddenly to Adam. Lee said, “Now you sit right here and I’ll bring you some breakfast. Do you know who’s coming to see us this afternoon? Abra.”
Adam said, “Abra?” and then, “Oh, sure, Abra. She’s a nice girl.”
“I love her,” said Lee simply. He got Adam seated in front of the card table in his bedroom. “Would you like to work on the cutout puzzle while I get your breakfast?”
“No, thank you. Not this morning. I want to think about the dream before I forget it.”
When Lee brought the breakfast tray Adam was asleep in his chair. Lee awakened him and read the Salinas Journal to him while he ate and then helped him to the toilet.
The kitchen was sweet with tarts, and some of the berries had boiled over in the oven and burned, making the sharp, bitter-sweet smell pleasant and astringent.
There was a quiet rising joy in Lee. It was the joy of change. Time’s drawing down for Adam, he thought. Time must be drawing down for me, but I don’t feel it. I feel immortal. Once when I was very young I felt mortal--but not any more. Death has receded. He wondered if this were a normal way to feel.
And he wondered what Adam meant, saying his father was a thief. Part of the dream, maybe. And then Lee’s mind played on the way it often did. Suppose it were true--Adam, the most rigidly honest man it was possible to find, living all his life on stolen money. Lee laughed to himself--now this second will, and Aron, whose purity was a little on the self-indulgent side, living all his life on the profits from a whorehouse. Was this some kind of joke or did things balance so that if one went too far in one direction an automatic slide moved on the scale and the balance was re-established?
He thought of Sam Hamilton. He had knocked on so many doors. He had the most schemes and plans, and no one would give him any money. But of course--he had so much, he was so rich. You couldn’t give him any more. Riches seem to come to the poor in spirit, the poor in interest and joy. To put it straight--the very rich are a poor bunch of bastards. He wondered if that were true. They acted that way sometimes.
He thought of Cal burning the money to punish himself. And the punishment hadn’t hurt him as badly as the crime. Lee said to himself, “If there should happen to be a place where one day I’ll come up with Sam Hamilton, I’ll have a lot of good stories to tell him,” and his mind went on, “But so will he!”
Lee went in to Adam and found him trying to open the box that held the clippings about his father.

3
The wind blew cold that afternoon. Adam insisted on going to look in on the draft board. Lee wrapped him up and started him off. “If you feel faint at all, just sit down wherever you are,” Lee said.
“I will,” Adam agreed. “I haven’t felt dizzy all day. Might stop in and have Victor look at my eyes.”
“You wait till tomorrow. I’ll go with you.”
“We’ll see,” said Adam, and he started out, swinging his arms with bravado.
Abra came in with shining eyes and a red nose from the frosty wind, and she brought such pleasure that Lee giggled softly when he saw her.
“Where are the tarts?” she demanded. “Let’s hide them from Cal.” She sat down in the kitchen. “Oh, I’m so glad to be back.”
Lee started to speak and choked and then what he wanted to say seemed good to say--to say carefully. He hovered over her. “You know, I haven’t wished for many things in my life,” he began. “I learned very early not to wish for things. Wishing just brought earned disappointment.”
Abra said gaily, “But you wish for something now. What is it?”
He blurted out, “I wish you were my daughter--” He was shocked at himself. He went to the stove and turned out the gas under the teakettle, then lighted it again.
She said softly, “I wish you were my father.”
He glanced quickly at her and away. “You do?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Why?”
“Because I love you.”
Lee went quickly out of the kitchen. He sat in his room, gripping his hands tightly together until he stopped choking. He got up and took a small carved ebony box from the top of his bureau. A dragon climbed toward heaven on the box. He carried the box to the kitchen and laid it on the table between Abra’s hands. “This is for you,” he said, and his tone had no inflection.
She opened the box and looked down on a small, dark green jade button, and carved on its surface was a human right hand, a lovely hand, the fingers curved and in repose. Abra lifted the button out and looked at it, and then she moistened it with the tip of her tongue and moved it gently over her full lips, and pressed the cool stone against her cheek.
Lee said, “That was my mother’s only ornament.”
Abra got up and put her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek, and it was the only time such a thing had ever happened in his whole life.
Lee laughed. “My Oriental calm seems to have deserted me,” he said. “Let me make the tea, darling. I’ll get hold of myself that way.” From the stove he said, “I’ve never used that word--never once to anybody in the world.”
Abra said, “I woke up with joy this morning.”
“So did I,” said Lee. “I know what made me feel happy. You were coming.”
“I was glad about that too, but--”
“You are changed,” said Lee. “You aren’t any part a little girl any more. Can you tell me?”
“I burned all of Aron’s letters.”
“Did he do bad things to you?”
“No. I guess not. Lately I never felt good enough. I always wanted to explain to him that I was not good.”
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good. Is that it?”
“I guess so. Maybe that’s it.”
“Do you know about the mother of the boys?”
“Yes. Do you know I haven’t tasted a single one of the tarts?” Abra said. “My mouth is dry.”
“Drink some tea, Abra. Do you like Cal?”
“Yes.”
Lee said, “He’s crammed full to the top with every good thing and every bad thing. I’ve thought that one single person could almost with the weight of a finger--”
Abra bowed her head over her tea. “He asked me to go to the Alisal when the wild azaleas bloom.”
Lee put his hands on the table and leaned over. “I don’t want to ask you whether, you are going,” he said.
“You don’t have to,” said Abra. “I’m going.”
Lee sat opposite her at the table. “Don’t stay away from this house for long,” he said.
“My father and mother don’t want me here.”
“I only saw them once,” Lee said cynically. “They seemed to be good people. Sometimes, Abra, the strangest medicines are effective. I wonder if it would help if they knew Aron has just inherited over a hundred thousand dollars.”
Abra nodded gravely and fought to keep the corners of her mouth from turning up. “I think it would help,” she said. “I wonder how I could get the news to them.”
“My dear,” said Lee, “if I heard such a piece of news I think my first impulse would be to telephone someone. Maybe you’d have a bad connection.”
Abra nodded. “Would you tell her where the money came from?”
“That I would not,” said Lee.
She looked at the alarm clock hung on a nail on the wall. “Nearly five,” she said. “I’ll have to go. My father isn’t well. I thought Cal might get back from drill.”
“Come back very soon,” Lee said.

4
Cal was on the porch when she came out.
“Wait for me,” he said, and he went into the house and dropped his books.
“Take good care of Abra’s books,” Lee called from the kitchen.
The winter night blew in with frosty wind, and the street lamps with their sputtering carbons swung restlessly and made the shadows dart back and forth like a runner trying to steal second base. Men coming home from work buried their chins in their overcoats and hurried toward warmth. In the still night the monotonous scattering music of the skating rink could be heard from many blocks away.
Cal said, “Will you take your books for a minute, Abra? I want to unhook this collar. It’s cutting my head off.” He worked the hooks out of the. eyes and sighed with relief. “I’m all chafed,” he said and took her books back. The branches of the big palm tree in Berges’s front yard were lashing with a dry clatter, and a cat meowed over and over and over in front of some kitchen door closed against it.
Abra said, “I don’t think you make much of a soldier. You’re too independent.”
“I could be,” said Cal. “This drilling with old Krag-Jorgensens seems silly to me. When the time comes, and I take an interest, I’ll be good.”
“The tarts were wonderful,” said Abra. “I left one for you.”
“Thanks. I’ll bet Aron makes a good soldier.”
“Yes, he will--and the best-looking soldier in the army. When are we going for the azaleas?”
“Not until spring.”
“Let’s go early and take a lunch.”
“It might be raining.”
“Let’s go anyway, rain or shine.”
She took her books and went into her yard. “See you tomorrow,” she said.
He did not turn toward home. He walked in the nervous night past the high school and past the skating rink--a floor with a big tent over it, and a mechanical orchestra clanging away. Not a soul was skating. The old man who owned it sat miserably in his booth, flipping the end of a roll of tickets against his forefinger.
Main Street was deserted. The wind skidded papers on the sidewalk. Tom Meek, the constable, came out of Bell’s candy store and fell into step with Cal. “Better hook that tunic collar, soldier,” he said softly.
“Hello, Tom. The damn thing’s too tight.”
“I don’t see you around the town at night lately.”
“No.”
“Don’t tell me you reformed.”
“Maybe.”
Tom prided himself on his ability to kid people and make it sound serious. He said, “Sounds like you got a girl.”
Cal didn’t answer.
“I heard your brother faked his age and joined the army. Are you picking off his girl?”
“Oh, sure--sure,” said Cal.
Tom’s interest sharpened. “I nearly forgot,” he said. “I hear Will Hamilton is telling around you made fifteen thousand dollars in beans. That true?”
“Oh, sure,” said Cal.
“You’re just a kid. What are you going to do with all that money?”
Cal grinned at him. “I burned it up.”
“How do you mean?”
“Just set a match to it and burned it.”
Tom looked into his face. “Oh, yeah! Sure. Good thing to do. Got to go in here. Good night.” Tom Meek didn’t like people to kid him. “The young punk son of a bitch,” he said to himself. “He’s getting too smart for himself.”
Cal moved slowly along Main Street, looking in store windows. He wondered where Kate was buried. If he could find out, he thought he might take a bunch of flowers, and he laughed at himself for the impulse. Was it good or was he fooling himself? The Salinas wind would blow away a tombstone, let along a bunch of carnations. For some reason he remembered the Mexican name for carnations. Somebody must have told him when he was a kid. They were called Nails of Love--and marigolds, the Nails of Death. It was a word like nails--claveles. Maybe he’d better put marigolds on his mother’s grave. “I’m beginning to think like Aron,” he said to himself.
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Chapter 54


1
The winter seemed reluctant to let go its bite. It hung on cold and wet and windy long after its time. And people repeated, “It’s those damned big guns they’re shooting off in France--spoiling the weather in the whole world.”
The grain was slow coming up in the Salinas Valley, and the wildflowers came so late that some people thought they wouldn’t come at all.
We knew--or at least we were confident--that on May Day, when all the Sunday School picnics took place in the Alisal, the wild azaleas that grew in the skirts of the stream would be in bloom. They were a part of May Day.
May Day was cold. The picnic was drenched out of existence by a freezing rain, and there wasn’t an-open blossom on the azalea trees. Two weeks later they still weren’t out.
Cal hadn’t known it would be like this when he had made azaleas the signal for his picnic, but once the symbol was set it could not be violated.
The Ford sat in Windham’s shed, its tires pumped up, and with two new dry cells to make it start easily on Bat. Lee was alerted to make sandwiches when the day came, and he got tired of waiting and stopped buying sandwich bread every two days.
“Why don’t you just go anyway?” he said.
“I can’t,” said Cal. “I said azaleas.”
“How will you know?”
“The Silacci boys live out there, and they come into school every day. They say it will be a week or ten days.”
“Oh, Lord!” said Lee. “Don’t overtrain your picnic.”
Adam’s health was slowly improving. The numbness was going from his hand. And he could read a little--a little more each day.
“It’s only when I get tired that the letters jump,” he said. “I’m glad I didn’t get glasses to ruin my eyes. I knew my eyes were all right.”
Lee nodded and was glad. He had gone to San Francisco for the books he needed and had written for a number of separates. He knew about as much as was known about the anatomy of the brain and the symptoms and severities of lesion and thrombus. He had studied and asked questions with the same unwavering intensity as when he had trapped and pelted and cured a Hebrew verb. Dr. H. C. Murphy had got to know Lee very well and had gone from a professional impatience with a Chinese servant to a genuine admiration for a scholar. Dr. Murphy had even borrowed some of Lee’s news separates and reports on diagnosis and practice. He told Dr. Edwards, “That Chink knows more about the pathology of cerebral hemorrhage than I do, and I bet as much as you do.” He spoke with a kind of affectionate anger that this should be so. The medical profession is unconsciously irritated by lay knowledge.
When Lee reported Adam’s improvement he said, “It does seem to me that the absorption is continuing--”
“I had a patient,” Dr. Murphy said, and he told a hopeful story.
“I’m always afraid of recurrence,” said Lee.
“That you have to leave with the Almighty,” said Dr. Murphy. “We can’t patch an artery like an inner tube. By the way, how do you get him to let you take his blood pressure?”
“I bet on his and he bets on mine. It’s better than horse racing.”
“Who wins?”
“Well, I could,” said Lee. “But I don’t. That would spoil the game--and the chart.”
“How do you keep him from getting excited?”
“It’s my own invention,” said Lee. “I call it conversational therapy.”
“Must take all your time.”
“It does,” said Lee.

2
On May 28, 1918, American troops carried out their first important assignment of World War I. The First Division, General Bullard commanding, was ordered to capture the village of Cantigny. The village, on high ground, dominated the Avre River valley. It was defended by trenches, heavy machine guns, and artillery. The front was a little over a mile wide.
At 6:45 A.M., May 28, 1918, the attack was begun after one hour of artillery preparation. Troops involved were the 28th Infantry (Col. Ely), one battalion of the 18th Infantry (Parker), a company of the First Engineers, the divisional artillery (Summerall), and a support of French tanks and flame throwers.
The attack was a complete success. American troops entrenched on the new line and repulsed two powerful German counterattacks.
The First Division received the congratulations of Clemenceau, Foch, and Pétain.

3
It was the end of May before the Silacci boys brought the news that the salmon-pink blossoms of the azaleas were breaking free. It was on a Wednesday, as the nine o’clock bell was ringing, that they told him.
Cal rushed to the English classroom, and just as Miss Norris took her seat on the little stage he waved his handkerchief and blew his nose loudly. Then he went down to the boys’ toilet and waited until he heard through the wall the flush of water on the girlside. He went out through the basement door, walked close to the red brick wall, slipped around the pepper tree, and, once out of sight of the school, walked slowly along until Abra caught up with him.
“When’d they come out?” she asked.
“This morning.”
“Shall we wait till tomorrow?”
He looked up at the gay yellow sun, the first earth-warming sun of the year. “Do you want to wait?”
“No,” she said.
“Neither do I.”
They broke into a run--bought bread at Reynaud’s and joggled Lee into action.
Adam heard loud voices and looked into the kitchen. “What’s the hullabaloo?” he asked.
“We’re going on a picnic,” said Cal.
“Isn’t it a school day?”
Abra said, “Sure it is. But it’s a holiday too.”
Adam smiled at her. “You’re pink as a rose,” he said.
Abra cried, “Why don’t you come along with us? We’re going to the Alisal to get azaleas.”
“Why, I’d like to,” Adam said, and then, “No, I can’t. I promised to go down to the ice plant. We’re putting in some new tubing. It’s a beautiful day.”
“We’ll bring you some azaleas,” Abra said.
“I like them. Well, have a good time.”
When he was gone Cal said, “Lee, why don’t you come with us?”
Lee looked sharply at him. “I hadn’t thought you were a fool,” he said.
“Come on!” Abra cried.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Lee.

4
It’s a pleasant little stream that gurgles through the Alisal against the Gabilan Mountains on the east of the Salinas Valley. The water bumbles over round stones and washes the polished roots of the trees that hold it in.
The smell of azaleas and the sleepy smell of sun working with chlorophyll filled the air. On the bank the Ford car sat, still breathing softly from its overheating. The back seat was piled with azalea branches.
Cal and Abra sat on the bank among the luncheon papers. They dangled their feet in the water.
“They always wilt before you get them home,” said Cal.
“But they’re such a good excuse, Cal,” she said. “If you won’t I guess I’ll have to--”
“What?”
She reached over and took his hand. “That,” she said.
“I was afraid to.”
“Why?”
“I don’t know.”
“I wasn’t.”
“I guess girls aren’t afraid of near as many things.”
“I guess not.”
“Are you ever afraid?”
“Sure,” she said. “I was afraid of you after you said I wet my pants.”
“That was mean,” he said. “I wonder why I did it,” and suddenly he was silent.
Her fingers tightened around his hand. “I know what you’re thinking. I don’t want you to think about that.”
Cal looked at the curling water and turned a round brown stone with his toe.
Abra said, “You think you’ve got it all, don’t you? You think you attract bad things--”
“Well--”
“Well, I’m going to tell you something. My father’s in trouble.”
“How in trouble?”
“I haven’t been listening at doors but I’ve heard enough. He’s not sick. He’s scared. He’s done something.”
He turned his head. “What?”
“I think he’s taken some money from his company. He doesn’t know whether his partners are going to put him in jail or let him try to pay it back.”
“How do you know?”
“I heard them shouting in his bedroom where he’s sick. And my mother started the phonograph to drown them out.”
He said, “You aren’t making it up?”
“No. I’m not making it up.”
He shuffled near and put his head against her shoulder and his arm crept timidly around her waist.
“You see, you’re not the only one--” She looked sideways at his face. “Now I’m afraid,” she said weakly.

5
At three o’clock in the afternoon Lee was sitting at his desk, turning over the pages of a seed catalogue. The pictures of sweet peas were in color.
“Now these would look nice on the back fence. They’d screen off the slough. I wonder if there’s enough sun.” He looked up at the sound of his own voice and smiled to himself. More and more he caught himself speaking aloud when the house was empty.
“It’s age,” he said aloud. “The slowing thoughts and--” He stopped and grew rigid for a moment. “That’s funny--listening for something. I wonder whether I left the teakettle on the gas. No--I remember.” He listened again. “Thank heaven I’m not superstitious. I could hear ghosts walk if I’d let myself. I could--”
The front doorbell rang.
“There it is. That’s what I was listening for. Let it ring. I’m not going to be led around by feelings. Let it ring.”
But it did not ring again.
A black weariness fell on Lee, a hopelessness that pressed his shoulders down. He laughed at himself. “I can go and find it’s an advertisement under the door or I can sit here and let my silly old mind tell me death is on the doorstep. Well, I want the advertisement.”
Lee sat in the living room and looked at the envelope in his lap. And suddenly he spat at it. “All right,” he said. “I’m coming--goddam you,” and he ripped it open and in a moment laid it on the table and turned it over with the message down.
He stared between his knees at the floor. “No,” he said, “that’s not my right. Nobody has the right to remove any single experience from another. Life and death are promised. We have a right to pain.”
His stomach contracted. “I haven’t got the courage. I’m a cowardly yellow belly. I couldn’t stand it.”
He went into the bathroom and measured three teaspoons of elixir of bromide into a glass and added water until the red medicine was pink. He carried the glass to the living room and put it on the table. He folded the telegram and shoved it in his pocket. He said aloud, “I hate a coward! God, how I hate a coward!” His hands were shaking and a cold perspiration dampened his forehead.
At four o’clock he heard Adam fumbling at the doorknob. Lee licked his lips. He stood up and walked slowly to the hall. He carried the glass of pink fluid and his hand was steady.
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Variety is the spice of life

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Chapter 55


1
All of the lights were on in the Trask house. The door stood partly open, and the house was cold. In the sitting room Lee was shriveled up like a leaf in the chair beside the lamp. Adam’s door was open and the sound of voices came from his room.
When Cal came in he asked, “What’s going on?”
Lee looked at him and swung his head toward the table where the open telegram lay. “Your brother is dead,” he said. “Your father has had a stroke.”
Cal started down the hall.
Lee said, “Come back. Dr. Edwards and Dr. Murphy are in there. Let them alone.”
Cal stood in front of him. “How bad? How bad, Lee, how bad?”
“I don’t know.” He spoke as though recalling an ancient thing. “He came home tired. But I had to read him the telegram. That was his right. For about five minutes he said it over and over to himself out loud. And then it seemed to get through into his brain and to explode there.”
“Is he conscious?”
Lee said wearily, “Sit down and wait, Cal. Sit down and wait. Get used to it. I’m trying to.”
Cal picked up the telegram and read its bleak and dignified announcement.
Dr. Edwards came out, carrying his bag. He nodded curtly, went out, and closed the door smartly behind him.
Dr. Murphy set his bag on the table and sat down. He sighed. “Dr. Edwards asked me to tell you.”
“How is he?” Cal demanded.
“I’ll tell you all we know. You’re the head of the family now, Cal. Do you know what a stroke is?” He didn’t wait for Cal to answer. “This one is a leakage of blood in the brain. Certain areas of the brain are affected. There have been earlier smaller leakages. Lee knows that.”
“Yes,” said Lee.
Dr. Murphy glanced at him and then back at Cal. “The left side is paralyzed. The right side partly. Probably there is no sight in the left eye, but we can’t determine that. In other words, your father is nearly helpless.”
“Can he talk?”
“A little--with difficulty. Don’t tire him.”
Cal struggled for words. “Can he get well?”
“I’ve heard of reabsorption cases this bad but I’ve never seen one.”
“You mean he’s going to die?”
“We don’t know. He might live for a week, a month, a year, even two years. He might die tonight.”
“Will he know me?”
“You’ll have to find that out for yourself. I’ll send a nurse tonight and then you’ll have to get permanent nurses.” He stood up. “I’m sorry, Cal. Bear up! You’ll have to bear up.” And he said, “It always surprises me how people bear up.” They always do. Edwards will be in tomorrow. Good night.” He put his hand out to touch Cal’s shoulder, but Cal moved away and walked toward his father’s room.
Adam’s head was propped up on pillows. His face was calm, the skin pale; the mouth was straight, neither smiling nor disapproving. His eyes were open, and they had great depth and clarity, as though one could see deep into them and as though they could see deep into their surroundings. And the eyes were calm, aware but not interested. They turned slowly toward Cal as he entered the room, found his chest, and then rose to his face and stayed there.
Cal sat down in the straight chair beside the bed. He said, “I’m sorry, Father.”
The eyes blinked slowly the way a frog blinks.
“Can you hear me, Father? Can you understand me?” The eyes did not change or move. “I did it,” Cal cried. “I’m responsible for Aron’s death and for your sickness. I took him to Kate’s. I showed him his mother. That’s why he went away. I don’t want to do bad things--but I do them.”
He put his head down on the side of the bed to escape the terrible eyes, and he could still see them. He knew they would be with him, a part of him, all of his life.
The doorbell rang. In a moment Lee came to the bedroom, followed by the nurse--a strong, broad woman with heavy black eyebrows. She opened breeziness as she opened her suitcase.
“Where’s my patient! There he is! Why, you look fine! What am I doing here? Maybe you better get up and take care of me, you look good. Would you like to take care of me, big handsome man?” She thrust a muscular arm under Adam’s shoulder and effortlessly hoisted him toward the head of the bed and held him up with her right arm while with her left she patted out the pillows and laid him back.
“Cool pillows,” she said. “Don’t you love cool pillows? Now, where’s the bathroom? Have you got a duck and a bedpan? Can you put a cot in here for me?”
“Make a list,” said Lee. “And if you need any help--with him--”
“Why would I need help? We’ll get along just fine, won’t we, sugar-sweetie?”
Lee and Cal retired to the kitchen. Lee said, “Before she came I was going to urge you to have some supper--you know, like the kind of person who uses food for any purpose good or bad? I bet she’s that way. You can eat or not eat, just as you wish.”
Cal grinned at him. “If you’d tried to make me, I’d have been sick. But since you put it that way, I think I’ll make a sandwich.”
“You can’t have a sandwich.”
“I want one.”
“It all works out,” said Lee, “true to outrageous form. It’s kind of insulting that everyone reacts about the same way.”
“I don’t want a sandwich,” Cal said. “Are there any tarts left?”
“Plenty--in the breadbox. They may be a little soaky.”
“I like them soaky,” Cal said. He brought the whole plate to the table and set it in front of him.
The nurse looked into the kitchen. “These look good,” she said and took one, bit into it, and talked among her chewings. “Can I phone Krough’s drugstore for the things I need? Where’s the phone? Where do you keep the linen? Where’s the cot you’re going to bring in? Are you through with this paper? Where did you say the phone is?” She took another tart and retired.
Lee asked softly, “Did he speak to you?”
Cal shook his head back and forth as though he couldn’t stop.
“It’s going to be dreadful. But the doctor is right. You can stand anything. We’re wonderful animals that way.”
“I am not.” Cal’s voice was flat and dull. “I can’t stand it. No, I can’t stand it. I won’t be able to. I’ll have to--I’ll have to--”
Lee gripped his wrist fiercely. “Why, you mouse--you nasty cur. With goodness all around you--don’t you dare suggest a thing like that! Why is your sorrow more refined than my sorrow?”
“It’s not sorrow. I told him what I did. I killed my brother. I’m a murderer. He knows it.”
“Did he say it? Tell the truth--did he say it?”
“He didn’t have to. It was in his eyes. He said it with his eyes. There’s nowhere I can go to get away--there’s no place.”
Lee sighed and released his wrist. “Cal”--he spoke patiently--“listen to me. Adam’s brain centers are affected. Anything you see in his eyes may be pressure on that part of his brain which governs his seeing. Don’t you remember?--he couldn’t read. That wasn’t his eyes--that was pressure. You don’t know he accused you. You don’t know that.”
“He accused me. I know it. He said I’m a murderer.”
“Then he will forgive you. I promise.”
The nurse stood in the doorway. “What are you promising, Charley? You promised me a cup of coffee.”
“I’ll make it now. How is he?”
“Sleeping like a baby. Have you got anything to read in this house?”
“What would you like?”
“Something to take my mind off my feet.”
“I’ll bring the coffee to you. I’ve got some dirty stories written by a French queen. They might be too--”
“You bring ’em with the coffee,” she said. “Why don’t you get some shuteye, sonny? Me and Charley’ll hold the fort. Don’t forget the book, Charley.”
Lee set the percolator on the gas jet. He came to the table and said, “Cal!”
“What do you want?”
“Go to Abra.”
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